Curated by Pamela McConathy Schied, MS, Futures Studies in Commerce, College of Technology, University of Houston; Principal, Foresight Communications Group,

America’s “gig” Economy is Booming

OTH April 2016Call it what you want — on-demand or sharing, but know one thing: America’s new gig economy is expanding. Problem is, experts don’t know just how much or how fast this part of the economy is growing. While on-demand veterans like Uber and Lyft grab the headlines breaking barriers and sometimes local laws setting up shop in cities across the country, hundreds of startups with similar platforms are vying for market awareness. Their shtick  is to connect people with goods and services they want,  for a price — whether that’s a meal from a restaurant that doesn’t deliver, or someone to help move a piano. And there are plenty of folks out there willing to do the work as well as use the services.

According to a major national survey developed jointly by Burson-Marsteller, a global strategic communications and public relations firm; the Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative, and TIME, some 45 million Americans (about 22 percent of the adult population) say they have worked or offered services in the On-Demand Economy. While 86.5 million, or 45 percent of the adult population, have used an On-Demand Economy service.

The issues being raised by such platforms is that peer-to-peer transactions bypass the traditional employer-employee relationship, befuddling regulators everywhere. “This is a disruptive explosion that we’re seeing, ” says Michael Solomon, a professor of marketing at Saint Joseph’s University. “Is it good or bad for workers? The real question is, what kind of worker are we talking about?”

“Millions of Americans are turning to the On-Demand Economy for greater flexibility and income, but still worry about their financial security and the lack of benefits,” says one Congressman. “We need a 21st-century social contract that meets their needs.”

Machine Learning and Biosensors Could Save Lives

OTH April 2016 4Numerous healthcare professionals have started using biosensors to remotely monitor the health and vital signs of some chronically ill patients. But a California-based early-stage machine learning and biosensor analytics company has created a system that takes this approach to a new and exciting next level.

Sentrian’s system not only monitors simple data such as body temperature and heart rate, but also tracks more complex information such as oxygen saturation of the blood and potassium levels using wearable, multiple sensors at a time. The system not only collects data streams from biosensors, it uses machine learning algorithms to detect subtle patterns based on general information within the system on chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This data is then pushed to a cloud-based engine that analyzes it and notifies doctors when necessary.

“If I see a patient once a year, I may spend one hour listening to them and the rest of the year’s 8,700 hours not listening to them,” says Jack Kreindler, Sentrian’s founder and chief medical officer. “We are trying to build a system that will enable us to listen to the lives and bodies of patients all the time, so we can make better, earlier and more personalized decisions.”

The system is currently being tested in clinical trials in the U.S. and the U.K. in patients with heart disease, COPD, cancer and a tendency toward high-risk falls. Early evidence has shown these sensors are spotting congestive heart failure exacerbations up to 10 days in advance.

“This is quite extraordinary,” says Kreindler. “Before, we may have had hours to act, now we are spotting variables, that differ from the currently accepted warning signs and triggers for treatment, that may indicate an impending crisis.” Doctors and patients using Sentarian’s system are teaching it what to look for and how other patients with similar risks are reacting in every-day situations. The system also is helping doctors expand their knowledge base and treatment protocols so they can tap into every single case study, clinical study and national guidelines worldwide on specific disorders almost instantly. Currently, it takes about 17 years for new evidence-based findings to find their way to medical facilities and practitioners, and then patients.

This Artist’s Mission: Portraying Life on Mars

shutterstock_149368982 web smallCreating images and animations to help humans envision life on Mars is not a matter Bryan Versteeg takes lightly. As mission concept artist for Mars One, a not-for-profit foundation created with the goal of establishing a permanent human settlement on Mars by 2025, Versteeg says, despite what some people think, he’s is no sci-fi artist.  That’s primarily because he relies heavily on science, physics and decades of experience in graphical design for the architectural and engineering fields. He also is the founder of, which provides visualizations of space exploration; cofounder of FreeSpace Composites, a carbon fiber 3D print system; and cofounder of Deep Space Industries, which is focused on determining the methodology and profitability of asteroid mining.

“Making illustrations believable is my focus. I work with a good team of people who are great at fact checking, telling me what can and can’t happen. Discussing these things with physicists and engineers keeps me grounded,” says Versteeg. “When people have an image in their mind, it is easier to dream about it. But with space, people don’t have an image in their mind because it’s something they haven’t seen before. Creating images of a future in space helps the entire process.”

Versteeg’s says his illustrations for Mars One emerge from a deep understanding of functional demands and human requirements. “Landing modules will connect to each other like Legos, and serve multiple uses from habitation to life support to housing and cargo,” he says.

His design process works around how the challenges of life on Mars will be met.

“Getting oxygen from resources on Mars is vital. Food requirements for a crew will be massive. Seeds to grow the food are much lighter, so we can bring seeds. Water is something we expect to get from the soil on Mars itself.”

According to Versteeg, another challenge will be in creating society on Mars as more and more settlers arrive. “There will be a tremendous amount of work to do, however, some sort of recreation will be important.”

Single American Women Become New Citizen Category

OTH April 2016 2It’s a fact. For the first time in history, unmarried women now outnumber married women in the United States. And according to Rebecca Traister, author of a new book All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, this is significant in several aspects.

Traister defines “unmarried” as women who are divorced, widowed, separated or never married. She says that this shift is “a radical upheaval with massive social and political implications because it runs across classes and races.” And it is not a self-consciously politicized occurrence.

“Today’s women are, for the most part, not abstaining from or delaying marriage to prove a point about equality,” she says. “They are staying single because it’s okay for them not to be married — a concept that just a half-century before would have seemed radical. They are seeing themselves as whole people able to live full professional, economic, social, sexual and parental lives on their own, even if they don’t happen to meet a person to whom they want to legally bind themselves. ”

Traister sees “the rise of the single woman as an exciting turn of historical events because it entails a complete rethinking of who women are and what family is, and who holds dominion within it and outside it.”

“We are seeing the creation of an entirely new population: adult women who are no longer economically, socially, sexually or reproductively dependent or defined by the men they marry.”

Single women are also becoming more and more powerful as a voting demographic, Traister says. They are driving a political agenda that includes demands for pay equity, paid family leave, a higher minimum wage, universal pre-K, lower college costs, more affordable healthcare and broadly accessible reproductive rights.

The author also points to another important result of this shift — career development before marriage. In 2013, Pew released Census data revealing that, “today’s young women are the first in modern history to start their work lives at near parity with men.”

How much impact this newly formed demographic will have on the 2016 election and public policy in the years to come remains to be seen. For now, it’s a new day for American women and the relationship they choose to shape with their government, says Traister.


Virtual Reality Gets a Google Upgrade The concept of VR has been around in the video game industry for several decades. But thanks to significant strides in technology, new opportunities are popping up for using VR in more immersive marketing and sales, educational, entertainment and travel experiences. At Google’s recent I/O conference, the company announced a new VR camera rig system called Jump. It combines a camera rig, computational power to assemble the videos, and a platform to host the completed VR videos, making the creation and sharing of VR content easier and more mainstream.

The Office in 2030 to Focus on Worker Well-being As most of us can guess, the office of the future will be extensively tech-enabled. Yet, according to futurists and office design experts, workplaces in the years ahead will also look like greenhouses. They will incorporate more natural light, plants, trees and flowers — replicating what researchers have found to be less stressful and more productive environments. In a report recently published by Plusnet, a U.K. Internet service provider, Owen King with Unwork consultancy says, “Wearable technologies will end the cycle of constant interruptions from emails, calls and colleagues. Monitoring levels of concentration, these devices will wait for us to get into the flow of a task before filtering out all but the most important communications.” Other predictions include holographic assistants instead of receptionists, 3-D printed food and supplies, diagnostic toilets that analyze your health, and meditation/nap rooms.

Buy-me-once Retail Takes Hold In 2007, Annie Leonard put a 20-minute movie on the Internet about the way we make, use and throw away Stuff in America. It unleashed a torrent of interest and dialogue from coast-to-coast on how America’s crazy level of consumerism was taking a toll on people and the planet. Since then, The Story of Stuff has been viewed 40 million times worldwide and has birthed a movement toward more sustainable living. For Tara Button, her personal journey of stuff was inspired one day after washing her Le Creuset casserole dish. She suddenly realized she’d likely have it for the rest of her life.”Wouldn’t it be great if everything in my kitchen was like that?” she thought. Following some research and refinement, Tara’s idea came to life and was born. Her mission: make buying things that are built to last easy; help others care for quality items; and encourage others to avoid clutter and waste by buying a few great things they love. 

Google to Help U.S. DOT Develop City of the Future Seven medium-sized cities are finalists for a project headed by the Department of Transportation and Sidewalk Labs, Google’s Smart Cities research unit, to come up with the best comprehensive plan on how they would use technology to better manage transportation. The best idea wins $50 million to begin implementing the plan which would tap such solutions as automated vehicles, on-demand services and open data. The cities in the running include Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco; and Kansas City, Missouri. “Cities must find ways to foster the emergence of technologies that have the potential to transform transportation and people’s lives,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Google launched Sidewalk Labs last summer aiming to solve issues such as congestion, housing, energy, and more using big data and emerging technology. The winner of the Smart City Challenge will be announced in June, and will receive more than 100 Wi-Fi kiosks, outfitted for gathering data and making it helpful for city planners and residents.

Key retail marketing trends to watch By 2020, the number of devices connected to the Internet is expected to exceed 40 billion. Marketers can bank on the fact that digital communication will increasingly impact retail marketing. Advertising won’t be enough to capture consumer attention in this environment. According to Deloitte, 70 percent of shoppers today learn about products outside of advertising channels. Technology will transform the role of the store. Digital interactions now impact 64 cents of every dollar spent in-store. Content marketing will be used increasingly at the in-store level. Some 75 percent of marketers see positive bottom-line results from their online marketing efforts. Retailers will be required to deliver customized experiences to customers who use multiple, digital purchasing channels. This will require careful evaluation and analysis.